Andrew Norton – Interview

I noticed Andrew Norton back in February after viewing his website featuring photography, video, and audio stories. It’s well worth a visit as Andrew has a light, engaging style that’s very entertaining. I was interested in his background in photography and radio production, and when I saw that he’d participated in a Transom workshop I contacted him for some additional information about that experience.

As a legit radio guy, Andrew suggested that we conduct an interview over Skype. He offered to record his end. I haven’t done this type of interview before so I bit at the chance. Unfortunately, it’s taken me forever to turn this around, even though I had the recording quickly transcribed through Elance – a web service I use to outsource some of my back office work.

Q1: Andrew, can you give me some background about yourself?

Norton: I originally started as a photographer and actually, the way I started photography was through shooting skateboarding. I was interning with a skateboard magazine while I was in school for photography. They offered me a job so I started as a staff photographer. Eventually I became the Managing Editor and all the while I was still shooting photos for them and going on trips, and also acting kind of as a Photo Editor, thanks to my background in Photography.

Q2: What pulled you into radio and multimedia?

Norton: At the magazine our Copy Editor recommended some podcasts and things like This American Life, Radio Lab, American Media. I started listening to those religiously and it got me interested in storytelling. It kind of opened my eyes to a new form of storytelling and when I was writing for the magazine I adopted a writing style very similar to the radio style of writing: very short sentences and very frank, but adding some humor and person touches to it. I would get people on the phone and do strange interview, little personal stories – that was kind of my outlet. So I learned to write from radio people and I became obsessed with listening to radio & podcasts.

At some point, I got a new D3S camera and it had a video function on it. So I started messing around digital video. The first video I did was me telling a story about a friend of mine who owns a hamburger shop. He makes his own ketchup – it’s like a 12-hour process and the recipe dates from the 1800s. So I brought my DSLR and a wireless mic and we spent a couple of hours together. I interviewed him and shot some B-roll (I didn’t know it was called B-roll at the time). I just asked him to walk me through the process and I made a short little video about him making ketchup.

Q3: How did that lead to Transom?

Norton: About the same time my wife and I got married. For our honeymoon we basically just took off in a car. The whole time we were on this road trip we listened to podcast after podcast. I saw This American Life’s Facebook page with information about Transom. My wife coaxed me to go, so I applied and got in. Transom is a two-month intensive radio-making boot camp. You eat, sleep and breathe radio, going from zero to sixty in two months. At the end of it you have two radio stories. I went into it wanting to learn how to formally interview someone, what makes a good story, and what kind of stuff do you need to collect audio.

I’d never thought about making a radio story. Transom selects people that want to tell stories but from various backgrounds from newspaper writing to someone in our group who was a nurse. Transom is really good at getting you into shape and within the first couple of days you have a recorder in your hand and you’re out there, breaking the ice, talking to people. I think that’s a testament to how good they are, and it’s also a testament to how small the technical barriers are when it comes to radio.

Q4: Which medium do you prefer?

Norton: I just call myself a storyteller. That story can be told through photos, through video, through audio. There are pros and cons to each outlet. It kind of depends on the story. The big pro of radio is that it’s just so much easier to do sometimes. It gives you more freedom because there are fewer technical limitations. It’s quicker. And it’s a lot more personal. Radio set-up time is five minutes. To do video you have to set up two video cameras, you set up your lights, you set up your audio – the set-up time is so long. And once you set everything up, your subject is hyper-aware that you’re recording them. It just takes away a bit of intimacy. People let their guard drop quicker with audio because you’re just there and yeah there’s a microphone in their face but they get over it quickly. It takes less time to go over a barrier.

One advantage of video, though, is that people are much more likely to watch it online. If I put a 5-minute radio story online, only people who are radio nerds are going to listen to it. But if I put a 5-minute video online, more people are going to sit at their computers and watch it. And even though it’s easier to get your audio stories out there now, if you’re not already established the odds of people seeing your video is higher than audio because video has virality built into it. If you do a 50-minute radio story and put it on PRX you hope people hear it; but the pass-around rate is way less. If your goal is to get as many ears or eyes on your work, and your means is just self-publishing, the best way to go is video.

Also, I think video is a lot easier to sell to people. If I approach a local brewery and say, “I’m going to do a 5-minute audio piece on you”, I’m not sure they’d be interested. Whereas with video, you can make more money on that and it’s an easier sell to people.

But for me, the best, the most innovative storytelling is on radio. All you have is the story – just the audio. So you really have to have your storytelling chops honed.

Q5: What equipment do you use for audio recording?

Norton: It’s pretty simple: a Sony M10. It’s just a little handheld recorder. I also use an Electro-Voice RE50 mic, which is just a standard microphone with a little windscreen on it. Finally, I use a pair of headphones. So it’s pretty small for radio standards. And very non-invasive.

Jess Engebretson, Radio Producer

I’ve reached out to several radio producers — some of whom have worked in both radio and the visual arts — to ask about the qualities of radio and how those may best be employed in multimedia storytelling.

Jess Engebretson was introduced to radio while a student at Swarthmore College. She participated in the school’s War News Radio and PRX Radio’s Sudan Radio Project. Following that, Jess spent a year “exploring radio and reconciliation” in Indonesia, Liberia, and Rwanda as a Watson Fellow; she subsequently taught radio journalism in Liberia, where she focused on human rights reporting and occasionally freelanced for PRI’s The World (Click hear to listen to two 2011 radio pieces). Jess is currently Associate Producer at BackStory, an outstanding public radio program and podcast.

Q1. What first attracted you to radio production?

Engebretson: When I was in college there was a student group that produced a radio program on the war in Iraq. I wasn’t particularly interested in radio, but I was interested in Iraq, and the radio people were the ones who were calling up students in Basra and MPs in Baghdad. I wanted to do that, so I started turning up at the studio and getting people to show me what to do. I didn’t grow up listening to NPR, so it was new to me on every level.

Q2. I see from your background that while a student at Swarthmore you worked at Swarthmore’s War News Radio (http://warnewsradio.org). Can you tell me a little about that program?

Engebretson: This was a weekly-half hour program a bunch of students put together on the war in Iraq (and later, the war in Afghanistan as well, though I was pretty much exclusively on the Iraq beat). It was started in 2005, and the goal was to cover the war with depth and nuance and attention to both historical context and personal experience. It was important to us that the show be more than a roundup of bombings. We wanted to dig into Iraqi politics and make sense of why politicians and militia leaders made the choices they did, and what impact those choices had on everyday life for Iraqis. We did our best to include a broad range of voices, and give listeners a sense of the diversity of “war stories” out there. For example, there was a great piece about checkpoints that took the twin perspectives of an American soldier (who talked about the fear that any given person coming toward you might be about to blow you up) and an Iraqi civilian (whose daughter had been mistakenly shot dead by an American soldier as she tried to pass a checkpoint).

It was a massive amount of work and we were constantly understaffed and sounding like zombies because we voiced our pieces at 4 am. And we were in suburban Philadelphia, so all our interviews were over the phone or skype, which was a huge limitation. But I adored WNR and it really shaped what’s turned out to be a lasting interest in radio and conflict. The show aired on about 50 stations while I was there; the program’s changed quite a bit since then (especially given the “end” of the Iraq war), but they’re still making radio.

Q3. After Swarthmore, you spent some time “exploring radio and reconciliation” in Indonesia, Liberia and Rwanda, and then training radio journalism students in Liberia. Will you tell me about those experiences?

Engebretson: If you read about the 1994 Rwandan genocide one of the things you’ll come across is the role of hate radio in fueling the violence. Basically, I was interested in the flip side of that — how people in societies that have experienced mass violence are using radio to try to bridge divides and knit society back together. So I spent a year in those three countries looking at projects that approached radio from a reconciliationist point of view. That sounds really lovely on paper, but one of the ways Rwanda, for example, promotes “reconciliation” is by essentially declaring chunks of history and politics off-limits for journalists. And a lot of Rwandan journalists I met are understandably highly sensitive to the way radio has been used there in the past, and feel very strongly that avoiding those politicized issues is the right thing to do. Of course, plenty of other Rwandans disagree — but mostly behind closed doors. Personally, I do think that the lack of space for open discussion works against genuine reconciliation. But it’s a not an easy knot to unravel. I spent a lot of time thinking about the purpose of journalism.

That was all part of a fellowship year. Afterwards, in 2010, I moved back to Liberia for most of another year to be a trainer at the radio station at the University of Liberia. Liberia has a quite a vibrant media these days, and while there are definitely still limits to press freedom, there’s a real sense that journalists can begin to hold the government accountable. That’s never been the case until recently, so it was an exciting time to be there.

Q4. What makes a great radio piece?

Engebretson: Surprise, narrative tension, emotion, presenting people as people rather than stock characters. It needs to give some broader context to whatever the central issue is. It needs to use sound creatively (ie, hearing this on the radio should give me something I can’t get just from reading a transcription). It should change the way the listener sees the world, if only slightly.

Q6. What are the strengths and limitations of radio?

Engebretson: Strengths: You can hear the emotion in an interviewee’s voice, which often communicates much more than the raw words.. Also, you can hear their silence. Long pauses, stumbling for words — in the right context, those can be much more powerful than fluid speech.

Limitations: Often, time. That’s not an inherent limitation, but if you’re making radio for broadcast on an NPR station, you often get three or four minutes to tell a complicated story. A lot gets lost.

Q6. Coming from a radio producer’s perspective, how should multimedia producers employ audio to create the strongest stories?

Engebretson: Think about what story your audio is telling, and what story your images are telling. Often, of course, they’ll be complementary. But juxtaposing audio that points in one direction with an image that points in another can also be a powerful tool. It can expose the gap between what someone says and what the visual record shows.

Q7. Where can people go to learn how to better use audio elements in multimedia productions?

Engebretson: Transom.org is a great resource, as is the Association of Independents in Radio. Nieman Storyboard is not specific to audio, but is a wonderful resource for storytelling in all kinds of media.

Q8. What type of equipment did you use for producing the 2 radio pieces published on The World?

Engebretson: I used an Olympus LS-10. There aren’t any deep tech reasons for that — it was relatively cheap, highly portable, and was one of only two recorders that I’d used in the past. It didn’t actually occur to me that I might buy anything higher quality, or use an external mic. I think being in the right place at the right time trumped having top-notch equipment.

Kate Holt – Interview

Kate Holt is a freelance photojournalist who has covered Bosnian refugees, the sex slave trade and human trafficking from Eastern Europe and the Congo, and conflicts in Afghanistan and Somalia. Ms. Holt reported for the BBC and The Independent Newspaper prior to establishing herself as a freelance photographer. She has been nominated 3 times for the Amnesty Aware for Humanitarian Reporting, as well as the Prix Pictet Photographic Award. Ms. Holt currently photographs for the international media, NGOs, and corporate clients and provides consulting services and media training for NGOs and governmental agencies. Ms. Holt’s website is www.kateholt.com.


Ms. Holt has incorporated various multimedia techniques into her professional work. I asked her about the market for that work product, and how incorporating audio and video with photography has affected her work.

Q1.  First, I saw somewhere that you grew up in Newfoundland (where my family originated). Can you tell me a little about your background?

Holt:  I was born in Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia) where my father was working as a doctor for the military and my mother was a journalist. As the civil war worsened they decided to leave – travelling first to Cape town in South africa and then on to Newfoundland.

My father had been offered a job working in Intensive care units and helping on the oil rigs. We inititally lived in ST Anthony and then moved down to St. Johns until I was 11. So yes, 6 years of my childhood was spent in Newfoundland – surrounded by a lot of open space and the sea!

Q2.  Coming from the still photography photojournalism world, how interested are you in multimedia? Are you seeing a pull from your clients for multimedia? And if so, would you characterize this as strong demand, or just some demand? Is your multimedia work primarily a personal interest or a professional “necessity”?

Holt:  I still believe firmly in the power of still photography – and think it still hasn’t a hugely important role to play in the media and as a communication tool in other areas eg internal marketting. I am actually starting to encourage a lot of my clients to start experimenting with multi media – by multi media I mean putting audio with still photogrpahy and creating short 3 – 4 minute packages. Some are showing an interest – some prefer to stick to stills.

I would say that some of the clients I work with two or three years ago were turning to film – but are now turning back to still photography and the use of multi media instead. Reasons being:

1. it is more economical
2. means they get the best of both worlds – eg a short photo film – but still able to use the photos individually
3. in some countries where internet is slower – multi media uses less bandwidth so is more accessible than films.

  

Q3.  I browsed through the Mogadishu project on your website, where you incorporate still photography and recorded audio into the final product. How did you approach the sequencing of images for this project?

Holt:  I try to tie in images with the audio – eg make the images relevant to the text.

Q4.  In Mogadishu, did you start with a collection of images and then build out the audio? Or start with audio and build up the images to support that audio? Or did you start with a blank slate and build images and audio simultaneously?

Holt: Start with a blank slate. Working in Mogadishu last July – time was very limited on the ground because of security. So we had limited material to start with! Sometimes content is never quite what you thought it would be so you have to be creative and keep an open mind.

Q5.  For your work, how beneficial is the addition of audio to your still photography?

Holt:  I think it adds hugely to the story telling process – and can be so much more powerful than film. One can say a lot more in a four minute photo film than you can in a traditional film.

 
Q6.   I also looked at your project called Fairtrade Tea, where you’re using video and some time-series still images. How did you find working with video different from working with still photography?

Holt:  Very – but I prefer stills! Although this was a fun project to work on and because of the interviews we needed, video/film was the only option.

Q7.  Did your thought processes change when you incorporated video vs. still photography?

Holt:  Yes, because you are having to work in sequences and think about interviews.

Q8.  Did you separately collect audio for this project?

Holt:  No – the audio came from the video.

Q9.  Are there any particular applications or situations that lend themselves toward multimedia (esp. in relation to still photography)?

Holt:  Yes – Soundslides is a great and very simple programme to use. Final Cut Pro — if you know how to use it — can create some lovely photo films too.

Q10. Do you have any new multimedia projects on the horizon?

Holt:  Currently working on two – one from Haiti with the Guaridan and another one about water exploration in Turkana, Kenya. Both are very different but I am using the same techniques and programmes for both.

Documentary Arts Asia – Revisited

Back in August 2012, I encountered Documentary Arts Asia (“DAA”) on the web and was interested in the breadth of this organization’s offerings. I connected with Ryan Libre, DAA’s Founder and Director, and in an earlier interview he outlined some of DAA’s activities, including an artist-in-residence program located in Chaing Mai, Thailand.

Returning to the DAA website recently, I see some new activities, including the Chain Mai Documentary Arts Festival 2013 (running from Feb 8 – 14, 2013) and the first of what may be multiple Podcasts. I asked Ryan for an update on DAA.

Q1. Ryan, this is the 2nd Chaing Mai film festival, correct? Will the format (exhibitions by photographers, film screenings, and workshops) be the same as in 2012? And can you give us some highlights?

Libre: Yes, second installment. This year is different in that we have one of the best galleries in SE Asia booked for the festival and 5 partner exhibitions in additions to our 10 major exhibitions. We also have a proper theater booked for the films, a photobook showcase, and a great key note speaker, Shahidul Alam.

Q2. When we last spoke you had just launched your DAA Artist in Residence program, with the first artist (Sitthixay Ditthavong) having been selected. How did Sitthixay’s project work out? Do you have plans to bring in another artist this year?

Libre: This project is unfortunately on hold for right now. We have had no real funding in the last year and have managed to keep all our programs running but this. However im sure very soon someone will support this and we have have 1 – 4 AIR programs a year.

Q3. I also see DAA has begun a Podcast series. What’s on the horizon for the Podcast series?

Libre: Lots of in depth multimedia interviews with established and rising Asian photographers and others influential in the field.

Q4. You’re also seeking a sponsor for the Podcast series. What will that sponsorship involve?

Libre: Sure, it takes time and resources to do these justice. I’m hapy to give good PR and credit to any company or individual who can cover our basic costs to produce them. Win-Win situation.

Q5. Any other plans — either for DAA or for yourself — for 2013?

Libre: In 2013 DAA and I will finish a feature length Documentary on the Kachin Independence organization. (www.when-will-it-be.com) We’re also planing to get our center in Kachin State running full time.

Marc Maurice – the Interview

In an earlier post I introduced Marc Maurice and his short film, “The Soundtrack of My Life.” I contacted Marc and he agreed to provide some additional background on his work.

Q1. Can you tell me something about your storytelling planning process? You mention using the iPhone to hold your preplanned shot list. Do you also use a storyboard — or is your planning mainly text?

Maurice: I start with a brainstorming, collecting my creative and technical ideas in one simple spreadsheet as text (I use APPLE NUMBERS) that ultimately builds the script. Here’s a small demo how it looks (click image for a larger version):

One minute you may have a voice over text idea, the next a camera movement idea, then you think of a location… it all goes into the spreadsheet. It will often need refinements: say you found a nice voice over sentence and connected a shot idea. Then you imagine an additional picture, split the voice over sentence over 2 lines and add the new picture idea etc. In this stage I tend to read the dialogue / voice over sentences over and over again and imagine the pictures for it. This helps to build the timing of the story at an early stage. I always try to visualize the finshed film as I would like to see it as a viewer.

Usually I start in a linear (storytelling) order and divide the lines in story-chapters. Once you finish the story you want to see different views of the sheet: for example beside the chronological order you want a version that shows all the scenes sorted by location or by actors. For this reason I copy the locations / names etc. to every line. Then I just mark the column I’m looking for (for example “Location”) and sort the column alphabetically, which rearranges to whole sheet. Before I do this I make sure that I filled the first column at the left with incremental line-numbers (can be done by marking two fields and dragging down with your mouse…). By this I can always sort back to my chonological order of the story. Of course you need to update the “story-order” numbers if you change the script.

During the shooting you might use a printed version of the sheet to check off the scenes you already shot. I like to use my iPhone with the the mobile version of NUMBERS to be able to edit the document: 1st for last-minute changes and 2nd for an additional column in which I enter “X”, to check off the finished scenes. I recommend an iPhone clamp to attach it on your rig. If your need to get the phone out of your pocket all the time its likely that you aren’t checking back often enough. If I work with a team, I prefer to use the iPad (if somebody else holds it).

SOUNDTRACK OF MY LIFE was shot under crazy time pressure… I was astonished that I could (well… almost) finish and edit the film in such a short timeframe: I believe a major reason was this way of planning details in advance. I would like to see the workflow of other producers… maybe they have better workflows. I guess my story planning is working best if you work either alone or in a small team that understands your “roughly described scenes”. I use my sheets for commercial projects as well, though I might show clients a filtered version with just the basic columns. I present the spreadsheets by reading and explaining them in a meeting. Instead of a storyboard I might just bring along some reference photos for important scenes. My clients might not be able to visualize the finished film in their mind in this presentation this, as we do as film-makers, but they usually can follow far enough to make sure that our vision is synchronized and approve the script.

Additional storyboard pictures for each / some lines of the spreadsheet are nice for bigger teams / projects. Instead of sketching a storyboard I like to use reference-photos I shoot by myself when I check the location. Sometimes I also use some photos I find with Google or at stock photo services etc. as a reference.

For less complex projects I started to use the shotlist tool in SMAPP, the terrific iPhone app for film-makers.

Q2. How did you develop your storytelling / preplanning skills?

Maurice: I admire great storytelling in all artforms (words, music, movies, photographs) and I have enjoyed telling stories by myself from an early age. So I was always curious how to keep up the attention of “the audience” (catch interest, build excitment, suprise, have the right timing,…). A big influence was songwriting. Songs — as little stories — need a dramatic strucuture. You follow rules that are very comparable to a filmscript: a song has an intro that wants to attract attention and maybe curiosity, than you develop the story (verse), calm down or increase the tension (bridge) and accel to a climax (chorus / middle section) etc.

I think the more stories you write the more you indirectly train your planning skills. You kind of have to learn to structure your ideas somehow. You might do this intuitively or –like me — more in a considered way, depending on your personality.

Q3. What were your thoughts as you searched for and incorporated the soundtrack into this piece?

Maurice: The song was part of the contest and caught my attention first. I guess without the inspiring song I wouldn’t have joined. While listening to the song my theme and the first pictures came to my mind. Regarding the sounds: I sorted my script sheet (see above) by the column SoundFX, prepared all the props and recorded them after the shooting with a TASCAM DR 100 recorder (just a few were ambient noise or came from samples libraries). Actually I planned to use quite a few more sounds but I coulnd’t make it in the short time I had.

Q4. You created this film for a contest. Was that valuable for you — did it change the way you work or planned for this film?

Maurice: I can’t express how valuable it was as a personal reflection and motivation to go for “my voice”! I started with film when the 5DII hit the market – films were one additional service next to music and photography. Since then I actually went for payed jobs only. Far too long I failed to reserve some time for creative freedom and to remember what emotionally connected me with film. STILLMOTION’s BIG SHORT contest was my first personal movie and it certainly infuenced my approach for upcoming commercial projects: instead of adapting my style to the project I’ll adapt the project to style I want to pursue…

It was also the first time I ever put something on VIMEO for a public discussion (yeah, I know – embarrassing…). I enjoy the interaction that arises from this a lot. STILLMOTION is so kind to to show the shortfilm on their workshop tour KNOW… I appreaciate the feedback a lot. Whatever come out from a contest: I’m sure it will somehow get you further… even if it is just for the fun and experience of it.

Q5. Are there any other filmmakers or multimedia artists that you’re following or can recommend?

Maurice: I find the best school are your favorite “big screen” movies / tv-dramas and documentations. I like national originalities as well: for example french and english movies can have very unique and inspiring atmospheres for me. In the DSLR / documentation world I follow a couple of websites: the Stillmotion Blog, Philip Bloom, Vincent Laforet, Shane Hurlbut, dsrlnewsshooter, and lately Audibleyeball :-), … and find all the insight and work samples you find there very inspiring.

Marc Maurice: The Soundtrack

Marc Maurice has created an intriguing short film to submit to StillMotion for a contest. The StillMotion contest theme was __. Marc, who has been shooting weddings and “corporate films for companies without the budget / room for storytelling,” knocked one out of the park with this gem.

I’ve contacted Marc and we’re swapping messages about a conversation as time permits. In the mean time here’s a bit of backstory that Marc provided:

“The story-background of SOUNDTRACK OF MY LIFE was following the recommendation “to look for stories in your own life first”… it was about some of my own memories. The basic idea was coming out quickly after reading about the STILLMOTION contest, but then I invested quite some time into the script-details, working it out very similar to a song (intro, verse, chorus, bridge…), planning the scenes, gear, camera moves, equipment, props, sounds, etc., in a big spreadsheet (with NUMBERS so that I had it on the iPhone while shooting). Nicely prepared the reality turned out differently: we shot most of the film in a crazy time pressure due to the contest time-schedule. I believe people with their head on straight (incl. a part of myself) would have give the project up more than one time.

“I shot 50% of the film 7 hours before the edit was finished, because my lovely little actors arrived late from their holidays… no way to find others.

“Since we shot in our holidays in the homeland of my girlfriend, Portugal, we had good and bad points: we knew we’ll have beautiful places, but I could only take along a minimum of gear (7D, Glidecam, photo tripod, table dolly). Instead of my slider I just used the table dolly on a wooden board that I bought at a local store jn Portugal: I fixed it with a studioclamp on a photo-tripod! Sounds like MacGyver? No, no, in reality it didn’t work that cool, but in emergency situations…

“I finsighed the film 30 minutes before the deadline … no sleep, 6 a.m. in the morning, 2 hours(!!) before our flight back home… and guess what… the internet connection failed in our apartment! Uploading via iPhone? No chance! So we had 2 options: missing the flight and uploading from a friend or flying home, missing the contest deadline! We flew… Back home, a few hours later, I sent Patrick Moreau the film (and let him know what happened) just for their “possible personal enjoyment”. I didn’t expect to be listed … but he wrote me back and presented the film at the contest site while noting it won’t qualify for the main prizes… which was of course no problem at all… I was just happy to “somehow complete the project” and maybe get some constructive feedback!

“I learned so much at this point from the little SOUNDTRACK OF MY LIFE production:

– how fulfilling and motivating it is to work on something you really love
– don’t care about gear too much (actually I am known as the opposite)
– even wildly improvised scenes can work out beautifully
– better be fast with kids and entertain them well :-) GET TOYS / PRESENTS BEFORE!!
– you can work out so much in NO TIME if you stick to it
– preparing a very detailed script helps SO MUCH to put the puzzle pieces together in the end
– left out ideas (and I had to leave out quite a few because of the schedule) are not necessarily a problem
– show your personal work in the internet, socialize and enjoy critics and compliments
– go for the films you really want to do and go the clients who fit to your films.”

Time-Lapse on Steroids: Dream Music

It’s long, but it’s also mesmerizing: a time lapse tour-de-force. Most amazing is that these artists were able to reposition and take frames with the mouth synch so well timed and integrated. 6-8 hours of work for each 3-4 seconds of footage? 6 months to do? Yeah, I can see that.

Marc Donahue is a 31 years old from Los Gatos, CA, graduated college at UCSB, filming and editing for 12 years. He specializes in Film, Lyric-Lapsing, Stop Motion, Motion Control Timelapse, Music Videos, Commercials & Wedding Services.

Sean Michael Williams is 27 years old from San Jose, CA. Sean graduated from San Diego State University, and has been filming and editing for 6 years. He specializes in Film production, Lyric-Lapsing, Stop Motion, motion Control Time-lapse, Music Videos, Commercial campaigns & Wedding Services.

Q1. Where did the idea to push time lapse to this extreme come from?

Donahue/Williams: We’ve been working on a number of different timelapse techniques for years. We recently got sponsored by dynamicperception.com that makes motion controlled timelapse devices. After years of experimenting we combined all our production techniques together and came up with lyric-lapsing, a stop motion timelapse effect that creates a surrealistic feeling.

Q2. How are you doing this — especially synching up the lip movement with the songs so effectively? Can you describe your process (without giving away the secret sauce)?

Donahue/Williams: Like I said before we have been experimenting with different techniques. Combining tedious movements within intervals of time allow us to create such powerful cinematography. We have a number of videos that kind of show you the process on my vimeo account (https://vimeo.com/permagrinfilms)

Q3. You say, “Our goal was to pioneer a new film genre by telling a story through art and music.” Can you tell me a little more about that?

Donahue/Williams: We wanted to push the progression of time-lapse and lyric-lapsing into the online short film world. We wanted to create an artistic story in a way that had never been done before. Our goal was to make Part II a unique experience that would be different than anything else on the internet. We aimed to seamlessly weave a visual narrative within the lyrics of 3 different songs and maintain a unified story.

Q4. Where would you like to take this time-lapse technique next?

Donahue/Williams: We really want to hook up with a big time artist and create a music video and get into some commercial gigs. We’d also like to take this technique and travel the world, showing all the fascinating places, and make travel documentaries.

Q5. Is this project linked in any way to the wedding videography that you’re doing? I think there are some pretty innovative things coming up out of the wedding videography business. Any interesting things you see developing there?

Donahue/Williams: Wedding videography is how we get paid. We do however use sliders and timelapses and actually the last wedding I filmed last Saturday I used this technique with the couple, after showing them the video on youtube. So yeah we are starting to apply it to other avenues.

Ryan Libre and Documentary Arts Asia

I recently heard an interview with Ryan Libre on The Candid Frame Podcast (www.thecandidframe.com – well worth investigating). I was impressed with Ryan’s interest in documentary photography. He discussed in particular his project to document the Kachin culture and independence movement (winner of the 2010 Nikon Inspiration Award).

Ryan also discussed his work forming Documentary Arts Asia (www.doc-arts.asia), which is a non-profit organization located in Chiang Mai, Thailand and working regionally. When I looked into Documentary Arts Asia (“DAA”) I was REALLY impressed and decided to contact Ryan for an interview to learn more about what he’s doing.

Ryan was raised in Northern California but now calls Chiang Mai, Thailand, his home. He has lived in various parts of Asia for over 10 years, having first started his photography career with a self-assigned project to document the largest national park in Japan. In addition to founding and running DAA, Ryan teaches photography workshops and continues his photographic projects.

Q1. Looking back on your experience as a documentary photographer, what skills and attributes do you think best equip a person to be successful?

Libre: To be a successful documentary photographer you need curiosity, passion and 12+ hours days. On top of that to be any kind of successful photographer you need to balance technical mastery and creativity. Many people are too far to one side.

Q2. You started out as a photographer, but now it looks like a lot of your time is spent helping others develop skills at or actually produce documentary work. Why the transformation?

Libre: Why is a huge question, but in a nutshell because it is deeply needed. Especially in the places like Kachin State where i am shooting myself and teaching as well.

Q3. Do you find producing and helping others produce to be equally satisfying?

Libre: Yes, and in many cases more satisfying. When i see my students get shots that would be hard for even myself to get or giving someone their first solo exhibition. These are a few of the many rewarding moments.

Q4. You formed DAA in 2008. What were your original ideas for the organization? How have your ideas evolved since 2008?

Libre: My original goals were to start to shift the documentary production from visitors who stay a few hours or maybe days to locals who live there and also shift the output of the projects that are taken from major international hubs to regional hubs close to where the story was shot and to the area being documented itself.

The plan has not changed goals really but has grown in scope a lot. I found just teaching was not enough to keep people engaged. Teaching plus a gallery to show the students and others work was more appealing. Then I added grants, then an artist in residence, then a library, then a theatre, then a festival, then an agency, now a publishing house and on and on. The more I added programs the more interesting it got and the more they supported each other.

Q5. Part of DAA’s charter is to “assist with the production and promotion of documentary projects which exist outside the standard remit of mainstream media, particularly those which represent the needs of marginalized communities and under-reported issues.” Is the assistance you provide primarily technical (such as teaching photography/video/storytelling skills) or exchanging ideas/advising/critiquing work as it develops? What types of projects have developed with DDA’s help?

Libre: The assistance DAA gives is broad and deep. It goes far beyond technical. We train, mentor, critique, make connections, support gear loans, scholarships to other workshops, provide funding, give outlets for completed work, sell work to give the artists funds and inspiration and much more.

Nothing to too basic or too big for us. DAA teaches people how to upload a photo to the web to connecting new artists with the best galleries in Asia, what ever is needed at that time for that person.

Much of the programming comes from a list I made of things that would have helped me a lot 10+ years ago when I was getting started. I tried to make everything on the list available to others.

Q6. It looks like DAA has a broad scope: gallery operations, an annual festival, workshops, a theatre to offer film screenings, an artist-in-residence program, etc. Which offerings are in highest demand? Are most participants local residents, or are you drawing people in from outside of Thailand? Is there anything you still want to offer but haven’t yet put in place?

Libre: DAA’s events are the most popular, we bring in directors and photographers to show and speak about their films and projects and that is always special and usually brings in 50-300 people. Our festival, the Chiang Mai Documentary Arts festival, brought in a huge crowd from all over Asia the first year. Next year’s festival looks to be even much bigger and better. www.cdaf.asia As much as we offer there are still many more programs I have plans to implement, but with no outside funding we are at the very max now.

Q7. You launched your artist-in-residence program in late 2011. How has that been received? Will the program change over time? What are your long-term plans for the artist-in-residence program?

Libre: Artist in residence programs are very new in Asia, especially SE asia and i dont know another documentary photography AIR in Asia. So we are spearheading this on many levels. All things considered it was well received, but we will work hard to make it even better next year. Long term plans are for the program to include a documentary photographer and film maker at the same time and also to make it four times a year. So a revolving door, as one AIR leaves the next one is coming and we have a big welcome / farewell party 4 times a year.

Q8. On a personal level, with so much going on with DAA, do you have time to photograph? What current projects are you working on?

Libre: I still shoot quite a lot all things considered. I am still actively shooting my 5-year project with the Kachin Independence Organization in Burma and some assignments as well. DAA is based on a team and community who all support our core goals and help out, so I still put in a huge number of hours but can walk away from time to time and trust the team and community who all want to see DAA succeed as much as I do.

Q9. How can people get involve or support DAA?

Libre: Many ways, like buying a print from our online gallery, or license an image from our photo agency. We also have a crowd-funding campaign to fund the first DAA photobook and documentary DVD, donate a book from our wishlist. Finally, we are a registered NGO, but we have no grants as of now. We’re always interested in potential grants to apply for to help fund some of our programs.

Ryan van Duzer – Interview

Ryan van Duzer’s intro to a short clip pretty much says it all: “My name is Ryan van Duzer, and I travel in search of adventure and, most of all, fun! [War hoop]”

I heard Ryan give a keynote speech last year at a video conference. He described his origins as an adventure filmmaker and how he’s taken the simplist of equipment and built a career traveling the world and producing shows for the likes of Discovery Channel, National Geographic and the Travel Channel.

Here’s what inspires me:
1. Ryan isn’t obsessed with gear. He takes what he has and makes it work.
2. Ryan has been successful by force of personality (which since he does travel narratives, means he builds his work around an interesting character).
3. He’s getting it done.

During the keynote, Ryan insisted, “There’s nothing I’m doing that any one of you out there cannot also do, right now.” From a technical point of view, that’s true. Simple gear, simple technique. But not everyone’s Ryan van Duzer – and like a charismatic preacher he’s got a high-energy style that is not easily replicated. He’s got … character. I find myself very tolerant of the sometimes poor image quality and wind noise and other blemishes on Ryan’s work because I can experience his adventures through his character. I never thought about riding a Big Wheels tricycle across Iowa, but with Ryan I can see myself doing that. Maybe.

Ryan was kind enough to answer some questions about his work.

Q1. You’ve managed to document a number of long-distance bike trips with very simple, light-weight equipment, shooting the whole thing solo. Can you tell me a little about how you did that?

Duzer: My first big bike trip was from Honduras to Boulder. I really wanted to document it and I used my trusty Sony DCR-PC9 (about the size of my palm). Having a small camera is KEY to documenting bike trips. I’d say that 60% of my footage is recorded while riding, so my camera needs to be small so I can hold it easily and not crash. Charging batteries is also very important, I usually poach plugs at any cafe or restaurant so I always have power. I also use a little tripod so I can set the camera up on the road and ride past it. It can be a pain but those shots are crucial to setting the scene. I have tons of footage of me pushing the record button and then running to my bike, riding past the camera and then running back to pick it up off the road.

Q2. Speaking of simple, light-weight equipment, are we looking at the shadow of your video camera that you use for all this stuff in the first few seconds of your “Cycling the Southern Tear” video? That sucker’s TINY. Do you really use equipment that small and simple?

Duzer: Yeah, I used the Canon 300HS for that ride. It’s a tiny photo camera that shoots great full res HD. In good light, the footage from that camera looks as good as any camera. I love having a small camera that I can whip out at any time. I keep it in a handlebar bag so I can pull it out quickly and film wildlife or anything else that pops in my view.

Q3. You studied journalism in college. How important was that training for your subsequent projects? You manage to produce interesting videos using simple audio/video gear, no lighting, no assistants — is there some underlying secret sauce you learned in J-school pulling these videos along? What do you think accounts for their success?

Duzer: No offense to my J-school but I was trained more as a dorky local news reporter than an adventure journalist. I did get training on Final Cut which was great, but the style I learned was in producing short news packages. My secret is to keep it simple-stupid, focusing more on the content than fancy gadgets. I’ll never get any high end commercial work, but that’s ok with me. My main goal is to produce fun, entertaining and inspiring content.

Q4. Your style seems pretty consistent across the videos: an audio narration over clips of you (subject) moving through a location (your point of view), with some additional shots of subjects/people/locations you find interesting — again with the narrative voiceover tieing these additional shots together. Is this style something you intentionally do? Or did it just evolve as you started shooting video?

Duzer: I think in order to tell a good story, you have to have some VO to tie everything together. I also focus on soundbites from the people I meet on my adventures…it’s a lot more interesting to mix it up with VO and interviews, my voice gets boring and I always find characters to spice up my videos.

Q5. Where did you start shooting video?

Duzer: My main goal is to host an adventure travel TV show and I got my start working in public access in Boulder. I had to shoot and edit all my own stuff which was a great learning experience. I created a show called ‘Out There’ which played for about a year starting in 2006. From there I began to get more professional jobs with Travel Channel and other travel websites.

Q6. What are you doing now and how has your work evolved from your earliest bike-trip videos?

Duzer: I just traveled to 17 cities in Europe for 60 days with a company called Viator, shooting over 100 short travel videos highlighting their tours. I’m also in production of a travel show I’m hosting called Paradise Hunter. My style is pretty much the same from my first bike trip videos, goofy and loud! I’m getting better at story telling and editing with every video and I’m always excited for the next project.

Vexed By The Poet

Norman Chichester, a local poet, presents an interesting challenge. My goal is to create a multimedia portrait of Norman using still images and audio recordings of his voice. We met one evening to record Norman reading some of his poems and discussing their origin and source.

What I’m finding is that while Norman is a very interesting guy, he is essentially a content man who has lived a full life and relishes his memories. Creating a stimulating story about a quiet, content man is surprisingly difficult. I took a number of photos of him from a variety of angles – but despite the variation of angles and perspectives, at the end of the day what I now hold are quite similar-looking images of a man sitting in a chair reading. Norman’s vocal intonations are great, but you can only do so much… It’s anything but dynamic.

The fundamental problem is the lack of story. There’s no beginning, middle, and end — just an end: a vignette of Norman as he is today.

So I went back to Norman’s place this weekend to get something of his history — how this poetry thing came to be. It turns out Norman has a very interesting story. He was always interested in language, even in childhood. But a physical limitation (a tremor in his hands) prevented Norman from living the life of a poet. Norman’s writing was so poor, he told me, that it was virtually indeciperable to read. Instead of the life of a writer, Norman pursued a career for 35 years as a square dance caller and teacher. “A square dance teacher,” he told me, “is something of a bard. He creates poetry in the moment in the great tradition of the storyteller.” He has to create rhymes at the spur of the moment, directing his dancers around the floor. Norman’s 35 years of square dance calling served as his school for meter, rhyme and performance.

In his 50s, Norman acquired a word processing computer which served to liberate him from his physical limitation. “I was finally able to write poetry,” he said. And he’s continued to do so well into his 70s.

I’m now embedding some audio clips and still images within this larger story of how Norman overcame his physical limitations to write poetry after decades of frustration.